How about this for an answer?
Writing Time: Pat Downey's career is taking a turn upward after he looked inward
It was this time a year ago when Pat Downey looked inward and had an honest conversation with himself about where he’d been and where he still wanted to go in wrestling.
His college career provided us with snapshots of extraordinary talent but left us with more questions about what could have been. The 2012 Junior World silver medalist bounced around with stops at Nebraska, Iowa Central, Iowa State and a stint at Iowa that ended before it ever really began. He won a junior college national title and placed fifth once at the NCAA Championships, but his goals and upside were so much bigger than his results.
Downey showed up at last year’s U.S. Open unprepared and out of shape after leaving Iowa and returning home to Maryland for a couple months.
“I was at a really low, low (for) two and a half, three months,” he said. “I went out to the U.S. Open and I feel like I wrestled my worst Senior-level tournament of my career. At that point, I looked in the mirror and I was like, ‘Alright, we’re going to do this thing for real or why are we doing it?’
“I still went out and qualified for the (World Team) Trials (Challenge Tournament after placing seventh at 86 kilograms), but I felt like I wrestled what was way beneath my level. I was not happy with what I saw in the mirror based on my performance. I always had a lot of mentors and people guiding me in the right light, but I had to do it for myself. It was something that, as a man, I just had to look in the mirror and say, ‘These are the changes that need to be made.’”
What needed to change?
“A lot of things, actually,” he said. “The consistency with which I was training, the amount of times of the week I was putting myself in live training scenarios at the (New Jersey Regional Training Center). Basically, doing things on my worst days when I’m feeling terrible that I probably wouldn’t even have been doing on my best days. Just my whole consistency to training, that was the main thing.
“But then I was dedicated in so many other ways, too … getting to sleep earlier, not cheating on my diet, drinking water as opposed to other beverages. There’s a lot of different things that go into that word dedication and discipline.
“I’ve been at the Senior level, trying to accomplish these goals at the highest level for quite some time and I’ve fallen short and I’ve never lost belief in my talent or my toughness or my technique, so I had to look elsewhere for things to fix to make sure I was able to accomplish my goals. Honestly, it was just a rude awakening, learning lessons the hard way. It’s like, ‘Hey, you need to be more than tough and talented and technical at the highest level of this sport to accomplish your goals. Honestly, I just got tired of feeling disappointment.”
Ideally, we’re all better at 26 than we were at 25. Hopefully, we figure out some things at 25 that we didn’t understand at 24. As Downey points out, we’re all on our own schedule.
There’s no question, though, that the 26-year-old version of Pat Downey is the best one we’ve seen on a wrestling mat yet. He outscored his six opponents at last weekend’s U.S. Open by a combined 55-19 count on his way to the title at 86 kilograms.
It wasn’t just that Downey won the tournament. It was how he won.
He took care of Nick Heflin 10-4 in the finals. He trailed Myles Martin 7-0 midway through the second period in the semifinals and came back for a 9-7 win, scoring a takedown and two turns in the final 30 seconds.
“A year ago, if I’m down 7-0 to anybody, I’m thinking, ‘Go for broke, I’ve gotta get a throw, I’ve gotta pin him,’” Downey said. “Now I’m thinking, ‘Next score and I can keep scoring.’ I’m in great shape, and I’m not used to feeling like that.”
Maybe this is a product of where Downey’s been. Maybe it’s a result of his current environment. Maybe it’s the urgency he feels with his wrestling career winding down. He plans to start fighting after the Olympic cycle ends and he doesn’t want to leave wrestling with any more regret.
It’s likely a confluence of past, present and future that’s driving him to get better.
Though his time at Iowa was brief and Downey never donned a Hawkeye singlet, he said he picked up some valuable lessons in Iowa City.
“I learned there’s a whole lifestyle that goes into it,” he said. “The Iowa Hawkeyes, that was my first time being around a group of guys that dedicated to the sport. I was like, ‘Geez, these guys, their whole lifestyle goes into it. Every decision they make is based upon what’s getting them better at wrestling.’ That made it easy for me to lock down my nutrition, lock down my training because I saw first hand that there’s other guys out there living this lifestyle day in and day out.”
Downey said the NJRTC has provided him with resources to succeed and an environment where he feels at ease.
“I’ve really just been welcomed with open arms,” he said. “The guys are all really receptive of me.”
The U.S. Open title provides Downey with an automatic pass to the finals of the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament later this month in Raleigh, N.C. A couple wins there would set him up for a best-of-three series with World champion David Taylor at Final X.
It’s no surprise Downey’s confidence is high after winning in Las Vegas.
“I’ve always been a confident person, and now I have a reason to be,” he said. “And that reason is the preparation I’m putting into this.
“People would always say, ‘Where do you get your confidence from?’ I was the guy who would show up to the Open like I did last year after not wrestling for three months. I had no preparation. Now I have a reason to be confident and, man, it makes winning easier, I’ll tell you that.”